TransferWise is now one of Europe’s five biggest unicorns

Unicorn tamer.
Unicorn tamer.
Image: TransferWise
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TransferWise is now tied for fifth place among Europe’s most valuable private companies. The money-transfer service announced in a statement today it raised another $292 million, valuing the company at $3.5 billion.

The latest valuation means TransferWise is now tied for the top spot among European fintech unicorns, as private tech companies worth more than $1 billion are known, with Greensill, a UK finance firm, according to Bloomberg and CB Insights data. TransferWise, which was launched in 2011, said the deal gave existing shareholders (many of which are employees) a way to cash out. The London-based company says it has been profitable for more than two years, and didn’t issue any new shares in the deal or receive any of the proceeds.

“The company doesn’t need any new capital,” Kristo Käärmann, TransferWise’s CEO and co-founder, said in an interview. “I’ve been quite proud and have stressed the importance that the company has been profitable for the last two and a half years.”

TransferWise, which handles £4 billion ($5.1 billion) in transfers every month, says it had a profit of £6.2 million in the last fiscal year that ended March 2018.

“Some of my colleagues have been working on this for the last six, seven, eight years of their life, so it’s a good way for them to get liquidity as well,” Käärmann said of the deal. “A lot of other companies would make their employees wait for the IPO. We don’t see that as necessary.”

The deal also provides early-stage investors that specialize in funding newly minted startups, or seed investing, a chance to cash out and find new investments, he said. And it gave TransferWise a chance to bring aboard new investors such as BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, that have deep financial resources, experience, and relationships around the world.

Asset management fees and expense ratios for funds have been grinding steadily lower—a phenomena that BlackRock knows well—and TransferWise has been doing the same thing in the foreign-exchange business. Käärmann says the goal is drive its fees down as close to zero as possible.

Scale is a big part of the strategy for running a business that charges ever lower fees for its services. When you’re big enough, you can charge seemingly nothing and still make money.

Even so, are investors comfortable with a plan that is predicated on rock-bottom fees? Other companies, after all, generally try to find ways to increase prices in order to boost profits. Käärmann said BlackRock, which has been dueling for years with asset management company Vanguard, a company with a similar mission, is enthusiastic about TransferWise’s pursuit of ultra-low fees.

“BlackRock, having seen Vanguard happen over the last 20 years, if anyone, they were the most excited about the strategy,” Käärmann said. “We let investors self-select to our mission.”